By William Dewey
Pennsylvania State University (formerly University of Iowa)

Nigeria; Nok artist



H. 26 cm (10 1/4")

National Museum, Lagos, Nigeria, 63.J.236

Photo by Dirk Bakker


Some of the earliest examples of sophisticated sculpture in sub-Saharan Africa come from the Nok culture. We do not know what the people called themselves, so the culture was named after the town of Nok where the first object was found. The fired clay, or terracotta, sculptures range in size from small pendants to life-size figures. They have been found in Nigeria primarily to the north of the Niger-Benue River confluence and below the Jos escarpment. Nok sculpture was previously routinely dated as 500 B.C.E. , or before the Common Era (BC), to 200 C.E. (A.D.) but recent archaeological excavations have now dated the majority of terracottas to 900 – 300 B.C.E. (B.C.) (Rupp et al 2005, Bruenig 2012). This head has been dated by thermoluminescence to the latter part of the 4th century B.C.E. (B.C.) A broken-off hand is raised to the top of the head (a fairly commonly seen gesture of unknown significance in Nok culture), and the back of the head is unfinished. The rest of the figure may have been attached to a pot.